The Orthodox family in a changing world
Rev. protopresbyter Evagoras C. Constantinides
In the middle of a calm and tranquil pond, a sizable pebble fell one day. A short column of water lifted itself up, then fell back into the pond and started a series of concentric circles which kept on enlarging and enlarging, even to the present day. This is how the attack began against the first human family in its heavenly abode, and it goes on unabated. Because that first attack took place in heaven, in the shadow of the throne of God, it should come as a warning to us that no family is immune from attack no matter where it may happen to find itself or conditions under which it lives.
And what was the goal of that original most devastating attack? To tear the family loose from its divine moorings, beliefs, principles and values and set it adrift on the road of selfish whim and arrogant abandon of discipline, dignity and self respect, under the misconceived license of freedom.
From the dawn of recorded history, and through great periods of learning and eminent civilizations, the family failed to even remotely approach that harmony, mission, purpose and unity which it possessed before the fall.
Only the appearance of Christ brought a halt to the disintegration of the family structure and offered not only the promise but the ingredients necessary to restore it to its former dignity and grandeur. The family in the times preceding, and immediately following the coming of the Lord, was heathen in belief and mostly Greek and Roman in ethnicity, if we limit ourselves to the area we now know as Europe and the Middle East . The bond of the family, as we Christians know it today, never did exist during the times of the great philosophers. The State was the highest object in life. Aristotle explains that the organized body of free citizens comes before the family and the individual man is nothing more than a political animal.
Socrates, in instructing his son on marriage, tells him that wives are selected and expected to yield beautiful children. Woman was thus reduced to the level of a slave, with no will of her own and no higher virtue than the bearer of children. The Greeks, Romans and all the heathens, practiced an absolute authority over their children, extending to life and death. When a father considered the life of his child useless, or believed that the child would not make a perfect specimen of manhood, being unable to contribute to the grandeur and glory of the State, he cast if off a mountain into the river below, as the Spartans did, or killed it as did the Romans.
Even among the Hebrews, the only people who believed in the true God, in a society where the supremacy of the male prevailed, the woman did not fare much better than among the others. In this chaos of moral degradation and mere legal existence of the family, came Christianity to inject a moral and ethical view. It recognized chastity as a greater virtue than wisdom, bravery and courage. It inspired both men and women with a sense of honor which would not be abandoned even in the face of death. The few women of antiquity, such as Penelope, Nafsika, Andromache, Antigone and Iphigenia, who lived in honor and virtue, as an exception to their society, now became, in the Christian milieu, the general rule.
This attitude of respect and honor for the individual brought about the emancipation of the woman. It elevated her to complete equality with the male, and recognized her rights and dignity as the mother of humanity. Marriage now became, not a contract for the improvement of relations between States, or the hope of the production of beautiful children, but a sacred union of body and soul for the propagation of society, the glory of the Kingdom of God , the restraint from passions, the exercise of virtue, and the promotion of joy and happiness. From the very beginning, marriage was clothed with a sacramental character on the basis of Apostle Paul's comparison of the union between man and woman with the union of Christ and Church. Clement of Alexandria gives us this lucid description of the family and the relation which should exist between its members: "The mother is the glory of the children; the wife is the glory of the husband; both are the glory of the wife; and God is the glory of all together."
The heathen practice of child destruction was also eliminated. This was an accomplishment of the Christian Fathers and Christian Councils, which was finally written into law by Constantine the Great in 315 AD. Prayer and fasting were two forms of discipline without which the family could not exist. Prayer has always been considered by the Christians as the bulwark of faith and the weapon against all the enemies of the soul. "Prayer," says Tertullian, "blots out sins, repels temptations, quenches persecutions, comforts the despondent, blesses the high minded, guides the wanderer, calms the billows, feeds the poor, directs the rich, holds up the falling, raises the fallen and preserves those who stand."
Fasting was a practice of the Jews which was continued by the Christians by the command and the example of Jesus. It was always connected with prayer so that the mind, unobstructed by earthly cares, might devote itself, with less distraction, to the contemplation of things divine and with philanthropy so that the love toward fellow man would be as strong as the love for the self. Both of these disciplines, effectively practiced, led and still leads, to the regular and worthy partaking of the Eucharist which was, is and will ever remain the heart and center of our Orthodox worship.
But the respite and support that early Christianity brought to the family has not rendered the family safe from attack or immune from trials and tribulations. In our own lifetime, there was a time when social service instruments, such as public schools, public agencies, even the Government, were the main builders and supporters of the family. Not so today!
The family now finds itself not only isolated, but even violated, and attacked by the very agencies which were supposed to defend it. Through legislation which permits, even encourages, abortion, divorce, homosexuality, and the like, legislation which not only protects the human rights of the individual - as well it should - but also legitimizes and promotes unethical, immoral and sinful activities, such as same sex marriages, the very fiber of the family, even the strongest Christian family, is severely threatened. What does this say to us? What must we do?
We must accept, in all seriousness, the fact that the burden for the preservation of the family has fallen on the family itself. But the family cannot do it by itself. And just as in war the best form of defense is attack, so must the family go on the attack by putting Christ in the Family Circle. Is there an oil lamp or wax votive light, or even an electric lantern, mystically flickering in front of some icons in your home? Is the Bible the most used book on your home library shelf? Is your home today a haven from toil and trouble where the spirit of Christ prevails in happiness, peace and tranquillity, or is it an unseen battleground where a running battle of invective and swearing, anger and accusation, nagging and argument is constantly going on between husband and wife, wife and children, and various other combinations?
What kind of conversation do you indulge in after meals? When you have company? At work and at play? How much of it pertains to the discussion of attainment of Christian goals and how much to filthy jokes and useless nonsense? How much to constructive thinking and concern about our government, schools, churches, businesses, the media, clubs, organizations and the like, and how much to vicious criticism of leaders, teachers, clergy, parents, peers and others? How much to the perpetuation and propagation of the truth, and how much to gossip? How much to mimicking others and their ways and how much to wholesome personal conviction?
If we permit ourselves to be molded by our environment, If we permit ourselves to be absorbed by the movements around us, If we permit our values and our principles to be watered down by pressure groups, If we permit the divine eternal and unchanging truths of our Orthodox Christian faith to be changed and be supplanted by the ephemeral pronouncements of the times, we are nothing short of foolish captains who venture to sail their ships through the oceans without charts and without compass.
the home does not reflect "... the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy,
peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self
control." (Gal. 5, 22-23), it is not an Orthodox Christian home. It
cannot be the dwelling of a Christian family. Nor should we forget that
Christianity is not a negative, passive or even a neutral way of life,
but a positive, active and involved way of life. What is it then, that
makes a home and a family truly Christian? High goals and aspirations,
Godly aims and ambitions, gracious and considerate family relations, a
place where Christ is really and truly in the middle of the Family
Circle, and the family truly reflects that outside the home, around it,
and in the world. And when the concentric circles of the pond find many
such homes and families to bounce against, they will reverse their
course and restore that blessed original tranquillity to the disturbed
pond of all humanity.